The greatest trick Miyamoto ever pulled was convincing the world Link didn’t exist.
Shigeru Miyamoto, the creator of Link of The Legend of Zelda, has claimed that Link is named for the fact that he is a “link” to the player. When you’re exploring the realm of Hyrule, you’re not doing it “with” Link, you are Link, and his every grunt and tumble is actually your own. Almost every Zelda game highlights this fact with a nearly entirely mute Link that is not so much a legendary hero, but just a dude in a tunic. He might have a sister, he might be a random farmhand, or he might even be a fairy boy, but Link is always intended to be the player from the moment you hit start. Your life is over, bird-flying kid, you’re mine now.
Except… that’s not very Nintendo.
There are a number of reasons Nintendo is friggen’ Nintendo, but one rationale that I’ve always believed is that, from the moment Jump Man became Mario, Nintendo just plain knows how to establish its characters. Mario doesn’t coincidentally wear the same gloves as Mickey Mouse. Maybe it’s the merchandizing, maybe it’s an overzealous fanbase, but, somehow, Nintendo seems to effortlessly create memorable characters. When even Samus Aran, a woman who barely spoke anything but narration for fifteen years, has a “character” to accidentally break during Another M, you know you’ve done something right (or, again, maybe it’s just a deranged fanbase).
“Blank slate in a green tunic” doesn’t exactly fit this pattern, though. Mario is silent save a few woo-hoos, but his personality is firmly established in his actions and acrobatics. “Cowardly” Luigi (flying brave Sir Link’s colors) is much in the same boat. Kirby is a damn pre-verbal pink ball, and I can tell you more about his personality than the headlining characters of La La Land (though, admittedly, I’m not sure about Kirby’s feelings on jazz). Yet Link is, time and time again, the most lauded Nintendo hero. He’s so… quiet? Well, he’s cool, at least. We know that much.
But why do we know that? Simple. It’s because of this hated creature…
Link might be a “link” to the player, but the real hero of Hyrule is whoever happens to be hanging out with Link on his quest. Without Navi, Tatl, or Fi, Link is… maybe brain damaged? Sheltered, at least. Extremely sheltered. This is the desert of the Gerudo. This is the Dungeon of Bad Vibes, you’re going to need a key or two. This is the field right outside your house. Have you never been here before? Should I stick a little note to your tunic to remind you which way is north? It’s up. Go up, Link. Oh Keese, why are you rolling everywhere?
… What I’m saying is that, without a companion creature, Link is basically a toddler with a sword. And that’s a crafting recipe for disaster.
This, of course, brings us to today’s topic: The Legend of Zelda: Midna Rules Edition. And, yes, Midna rules. It’s right there in the title! But why is Midna the boss? It’s because Link is a person, and not an anonymous “link”.
When The Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess (alternate title) begins, Link has a pretty solid life. He’s herding cow creatures, hanging out with swollen headed moppets, and kinda-sorta dating Pony Princess. It’s a phenomenally boring life, but it’s a life, and probably not that far off from even modern countryside living. This all changes with the Realm of Twilight invades, kidnaps a few kiddies, and transforms the surrounding area into a waking nightmare. Link himself is captured, tossed into a dungeon, and transformed into a puppy dog (maybe not in that order). It’s here that he meets Midna, a spritely elf with a penchant for wolf-riding, and the adventure begins in earnest. Together, Midna and Link venture forth to save two kingdoms, and maybe see if Zelda knows how to use that sword (answer: not really).
Oh, also, Midna kinda hates everything.
Midna is the deposed princess of another world. That sucks. She also got transformed into her current “imp” form thanks to a dark curse. That also sucks. And the guy that cursed her and conquered her kingdom? He’s malevolent, power-mad, and crazy-go-nuts bonkers, so it’s hard to make peace with the new administration and “just give him a chance”. In short, Midna doesn’t have a single reason to be happy before the game even begins. By the time she’s forced to work together with a mutt to strike down monkeys and gather shadow pieces, she’s pretty much at her lowest point. She’s cursed, beaten, and is probably going to wind up with a back out of alignment thanks to that silly hat. Just not a good day for Midna.
And she lets Link know about it.
While it’s absolutely true in other Zelda materials, it would be way too reductive to label Midna as simply the “tsundere” archetype. Yes, she’s about three seconds from “it’s not because I like you or anything”, but Midna’s personality does actually evolve over the adventure. Right around the time that Link and Zelda literally save Midna’s life, she seems to noticeably thaw a bit, and her icy exterior gives way to a character that has to shatter dimensions just to keep her feelings in check. Wait, is that tsundere to a T? My bad. Let’s just say that comparing any character this nuanced to a damn anime trope is bad form, and leave it at that. Midna has layers, and it’s not just because she’s attached to a thirty hour adventure.
And it’s Midna’s layers that keep Link alive.
In The Legend of Zelda: Wind Waker, Link initially sets out from Outset Island (oh, I just got that) to rescue his sister. Along the way, he learns of a lost kingdom and magical swords and Bird Person the mailman. By the time Link is kissing the King of Red Lions good-bye, Link’s sister, his own flesh and blood, has been nearly completely forgotten. She’s still there, yes, but she has nothing to do with anything past her hair color, and Link is ready for new, bigger adventures without whatsherface. Can’t quite remember her name… starts with… A?
Midna doesn’t let Link forget about his life. Hey stupid, you’ve got to rescue those kids. Hey stupid, you’ve got to restore Pony Princess’s broken brain meats. Hey stupid, wasn’t there another princess in this story? Do something about that. Hey stupid, I’m not your personal secretary, I’m a damn princess myself, how about you keep saving your stupid kingdom before I turn you into Fido again.
Hey, Link, do what you’re supposed to do.
It’s likely no coincidence that this is the Zelda game with a magical mirror as its main McGuffin, as Midna is the perfect mirror for Link. Midna is selfish when Link is noble. Midna throws a tantrum, and Link stays cool. She is chatty, he is mute. She’s just sitting there, and he is running around on all fours. Midna (appears to be) everything Link isn’t, and that defines Link wholly. Midna is the monster, and Link is the hero.
Link is not a cipher. Link is, as much as any other Nintendo mascot, an established character with clearly defined traits. Link is best demarcated by his opposite number, but, in a pinch, any fairy, sword, or boat will do. Link is the Hero of Hyrule, and we only know it because of his helpers.
Just be careful if you’re going to call Midna a helper…
FGC #244 The Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess
- System: I’m always surprised that this game is on so many systems. Technically, it’s on Gamecube (with the original, scarce Gamecube version), Wii (much more popular), and WiiU (via the HD rerelease). I still think of Twilight Princess as a “recent” Zelda title, so it always confuses me to learn it’s already on three different generations of hardware.
- Number of players: There is only one hero in these two realms.
- Maybe actually talk about the game for a second: There are three reasons I dislike this game. One, during the main quest, it seems like there’s an interruption every five feet, whether it be sumo wrestling, fluzzard flying, or bridge dueling. Second, every “hidden area” seems to have a “come back when you have item X” sign, so exploring before you have dual hookshots doesn’t work out well. And, finally, once you do have everything, the map is so damn big that it takes for-friggen-ever to get anywhere. Lake Hylia is… unruly. All that said, it’s still a Zelda game, so even at its worst, it’s better than like 90% of my library.
- Favorite Item: I don’t care if it only gets used in one damn dungeon, the Spinner is the bee’s knees. PETA might have issues with this, but I feel like Epona should have been ditched for the second half of the game, and the Spinner should have picked up all of her movement abilities. Spinner-back archery? Yes please.
- Wii-mote Possibility: The constant shaking of this game isn’t the best thing in the world, but gyroscopic archery did a lot to sell me on the possibility of the Wii. I’m actually curious how the “protect the carriage” bit works out on the Gamecube, because the aiming fun of the wiimote makes that escort mission actually tolerable.
- Goggle Bob Fact: I had a very long, in-depth conversation with my (then) girlfriend over the phone while playing through the Sacred Grove/get the Master Sword section of the game. While I can barely remember the actual contents of the conversation, I literally cannot play that area without distinctly recalling my old apartment, my old (garbage) couch, and attempting to juggle the ancient flip phone of the day while shaking the wiimote. Stupid flashbulb memories…
- Did you know? Midna’s “talking sounds” are actually English voice acting played backwards and distorted. Is this meant to imply that the Twilight Realm was really America all along? You damn, dirty shadow monsters!
- Would I play again: I’ve been working on the HD rerelease off and on for a little while, but I still haven’t completed it. I kind of cooled on the game when Breath of the Wild seemed imminent. You don’t want to play too much Zelda at once! That said, I know I’ll get back to it eventually.
What’s next? We’re celebrating the Switch launch with the prequel to an anticipated Switch title, Super Bomberman 2. It’s gonna be a blast! Please look forward to it!